The Blog

The Weekly Standard Holiday Reading Guide

Our holiday gift to you: We offer our choices for books to enjoy over the holidays or to consider as last-minute gift ideas.

11:00 PM, Dec 19, 2002
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I've just read "The Rise and Fall of Adolf Hitler" and half of "The Story of Winston Churchill" with a not-very-bookish 12-year-old, and he loved these exciting accounts of the lives of giant figures. I did too--and was pleased to find them historically respectable. The Hitler book is by William Shirer, who covered Nazi Germany firsthand and later made a study of the captured Nazi archives for his grownup magnum opus, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich." The young people's version, while much shorter, is filled with quotations from original sources and eyewitness accounts, and it's illustrated with photographs.

Similarly, Alida Sims Malkus's account of Churchill's childhood is filled with anecdotes interesting to a kid--his scrapes and canings at boarding school, his brushes with death, his failed exams and special prize for reciting perfectly 1,200 lines of Macaulay's "Lays of Ancient Rome"--all of which also turn up in a book I have by Churchill's granddaughter based on family sources like Churchill's childhood letters. My friend and I are just at the part where the 22-year-old Lieutenant Churchill is covering imperial skirmishes in the Himalayas for an Indian newspaper called the "Allahbad Pioneer," and Malkus gives us vivid snippets from his dispatches.

If you don't have these or any of the other marvelous Landmark and Signature titles on your shelves, you can find them through an Internet service specializing in out-of-print books (I use alibris.com). I guess these series are too politically incorrect to be reissued. But then to some readers that's a recommendation. To give you the flavor, here's the last paragraph of each of the books discussed here:

"The remembrance of the grisly world nightmare he provoked, of the millions of innocent beings he slaughtered, of the hurt he did to the human spirit, lingers on. The memory fades but slowly as the years pass and mankind resumes its ages-old effort to make the world a more decent place in which to live."

"He had led his countrymen in their darkest hour. He had suffered defeats, many defeats; yet he was never defeated, for he kept right on working for the things he believed in. He had become for all men an example of determination and courage. And his name will long be remembered throughout the civilized world."

Lee Bockhorn, associate editor

WHAT BETTER TIME OF YEAR than Christmas to ponder what it means to be a Christian--what it means for one's living, loving, grieving, and rejoicing? There are few better guides for this task than C.S. Lewis. And it's a singularly appropriate time to remember his work: 2002 marked the 60th and 50th anniversary, respectively, of the publication of two of his most famous and beloved books, "The Screwtape Letters" and "Mere Christianity," and 2003 will mark the 40th anniversary of Lewis's death.

Harper Books recently published a handsome boxed set of paperback editions of six of Lewis's most important books: "Mere Christianity" and "Screwtape," along with "The Problem of Pain," "The Great Divorce," "Miracles," and "A Grief Observed." The set would make a great gift for anyone not yet initiated into the writings of Lewis. Newcomers should start with "Mere Christianity," one of the best Christian apologetics ever written, and "Screwtape," a satirical collection of "letters" written by the elder devil Screwtape to his younger protégé, Wormwood, offering counsel on how to tempt men away from Christian faith. It's simultaneously hilarious and deeply serious.

The Harper Books collection omits two other terrific Lewis volumes which, like most of Lewis's books, manage to combine brevity and profundity. Anyone interested in the current debates over biotechnology, cloning, and stem cell research shouldn't fail to read "The Abolition of Man." Lewis's warning in this 1944 book seems especially pertinent today: "If man chooses to treat himself as raw material, then raw material he will be." Recently I read another of Lewis's best books, "The Four Loves," a wise meditation from a Christian perspective on the various types of human love (though the book is a worthwhile read for non-Christians as well). Lewis devotes a chapter each to affection, friendship, eros, and the most essential love of all, Christian charity, discussing their glories, absurdities, and dangers with wit and erudition.